The opening of Phase I of the campus’s new Life Science Laboratories this fall will help facilitate the type of interdisciplinary collaboration and applied research that can shorten that gap between scientific innovation and technological advancement.
The strengths of this new building, which is part of the campus’s fast-growing life sciences precinct, lie in both its state-of-the-art facilities and the way research will be conducted. The design allows for a collaborative environment, encouraging cross-fertilization of ideas between researchers from various fields. The building is laid out to support current areas of interdisciplinary synergy, with extensive shell space included for future strategic initiatives.
"You can share utilities and facilities, that's always an attractive feature" says Malone. "But the real strength is the interdisciplinary nature of the labs."
Increasingly, scientific discoveries are occurring at the crossroads of disciplines. The Life Science Laboratories will be filled with what Malone calls "clusters" of researchers from an assortment of backgrounds and all devoted to life sciences research.
"The way that we decided the occupancy was new for us. The researchers that will populate this building had to apply to be in there. Faculty members who move their work into the new labs are those who feel confident their work will reach new heights for having this expansive, collaborative environment,” says Malone.
The freedom for work to expand organically and the use of shell space will allow for exploration of various avenues the researchers may not have predicted. “The great thing about the new Life Science Laboratories is that we will be in a cluster of individuals from whom we’ll be able to learn new techniques, use new equipment, and create new knowledge from those collaborations," says microbiologist Wilmore Webley. Webley, who is working on a novel delivery mechanism for Chlamydia vaccine, would like to see his technology adapted to treat other types of disease.
"Universities were supported in the past because the disciplines were important, and they still are. After all, you can't have strong interdisciplinary programs without strong disciplines. But now people also want more impact from research. They want human health, clean energy, safety and security, environmental quality, a creative economy; they want things that require combinations of knowledge."
The new laboratory space will allow for interdisciplinary projects, yield more relevant results, and shrink that time span between question and answer.
In addition to the advancements of scientific findings, the Life Science Laboratories will continue to benefit the community in ways the University is already known for. "Our two most important advances to the Commonwealth are educational and economic development. We're a big provider of human talent."
The campus confers hundreds of undergraduate and graduate degrees in the life sciences annually. The specialized focus of the Life Science Laboratories will help create a better prepared workforce not just a bigger one. "When students graduate they may have to work with people from several disciplines, possibly different ones than their original focus," says Malone. Between preparing graduates for a multi-disciplined work experience, their exposure to specialized, state-or-the-art life science equipment, and a strong focus on translational goals, the educational accomplishments factor into and inform economic development.
"We hope this research leads to products and services that can create new business opportunities, either by licensing technology or by more start-up companies. We're on a push to increase the level of commercialization activity related to certain kinds of discoveries," adds Malone.
Constructed on Thatcher Way, behind Skinner Hall and the Integrated Science Building, the Life Science Laboratories are actually two buildings with a potential third one planned. Their projected opening is October2013
Ryan Morin and Karen J. Hayes '85
Increasingly, scientific discoveries are occurring at the crossroads of disciplines. The Life Science Laboratories will be filled with clusters of researchers all devoted to life sciences research.